Tag Archives: Muhiddin Kabiri

asiaplus:”Four residents of Istaravshan jailed for membership in the banned Islamic Revival Party”

Four residents of the northern city of Istaravshan have been jailed for membership in the banned Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).

The Sughd regional court sentenced Qurbonboy Abidov, 33, Nasim Barotov, 38, Shuhrat Mavlonov, 30, and Shoumed Oqilov, 38 to six year in prison each last week.

The sentence followed their conviction on charges of participating in political parties, public or religious associations that are banned in Tajikistan (Article 30 (2) of Tajikistan’s Penal Code).  They will serve their terms in a high-security penal colony.

An official source at the Sughd regional court says they joined the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan during the period from 2007 to 2011.

Founded in October 1990, the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan was the only Islamic party officially registered in former Soviet Central Asia.  The IRPT was registered on December 4, 1991.  It was banned by the Supreme Court in June 1993 and legalized in August 1999.

Since 1999, the party had reportedly been the second-largest party in Tajikistan after the ruling People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan.

In the 2005 and 2010 parliamentary elections, the IRPT won two out of 63 seats in the parliament, but the party suffered a crushing defeat in Tajikistan’s March 2015 vote, failing to clear the 5 percent threshold needed to win parliament seats.

Tajikistan’s Supreme Court banned the Islamic Revival Party as terrorist group on September 29, 2015 on the basis of a suit filed by the Prosecutor-General’s Office.  The Supreme Court ruled that the IRPT should be included on a blacklist of extremist and terrorist organizations.  The verdict forces the closure of the IRPT’s official newspaper Najot and bans the distribution of any video, audio, or printed materials related to the party’s activities.

Party leader Muhiddin Kabiri, who now is in self-imposed exile abroad, denies any wrongdoing or involvement in the violence.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has put IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri on trial in absentia.  In 2017, Tajikistan amended legislation to let courts try and sentence suspects in absentia.

The case has reportedly been classified as “secret,” but some sources say charges against Muhiddin Kabiri include terrorism and involvement in what the government says was an armed attempt to seize power, led by mutinous former Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda, in September 2015.

09:53, april 3

Read more: https://www.asiaplus.tj/en/node/252793

RFERL: “Rare Triumph For Tajikistan’s IRPT, As Leader Removed From Interpol’s ‘Red Notice'”

There was something of a victory for the embattled Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) on March 2 when the IRPT’s leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, announced that Interpol had taken his name off its wanted list.

It was a rare triumph for the IPRT, which just two weeks earlier saw one of its members in exile (as so many are) “forcibly and extrajudicially returned… from Istanbul to Tajikistan,” according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The removal of Kabiri from the Interpol “Red Notice” list is also a sign international law enforcement organizations are being more diligent in ascertaining whether requests from governments to declare their citizens wanted are genuine concerns for safety or political vendettas.

IRPT spokesman Mahmudjon Faizrahmonov welcomed the news of “the removal of Interpol’s Red Notice against Mr. Kabiri, a peaceful and moderate politician,” and said Interpol’s decision was “a setback for the Dushanbe government’s efforts to portray its opponents as militants and terrorists.”

“Militants and terrorists” is exactly how the Tajik government has described the IRPT, at least recently. The party was banned in September 2015 and not long after declared an extremist group.

That came after 18 years of fairly successful coexistence between the government and the IRPT. The two were combatants during the 1992-97 civil war, but the conflict ended with a peace deal that gave places in the government to the IRPT and its wartime allies.

The IRPT was the only registered Islamic party in Central Asia. The IRPT spoke against radical Islamic groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Iraq and Syria.

This stance by the IRPT was valuable to the secular government of President Emomali Rahmon since the Islamic party’s authority to speak out against extremism, like the extremism in neighboring Afghanistan, resonated far more loudly and credibly with Tajikistan’s population than that of the government or state-appointed clerics.

It is against Interpol’s constitution for individuals to be targeted because of their political or religious beliefs…but this has not stopped authoritarian governments like Tajikistan targeting political exiles.”
— Edward Lemon, Columbia University’s Harriman Institute

But the IRPT’s places in government gradually dwindled and the party lost its last two seats in parliament in elections on March 1, 2015, that some, including the IRPT, calimed were rigged. That June, the party had its registration taken away and when the allegedly renegade Deputy Defense Minister Abdulhalim Nazarzoda supposedly rebelled in early September 2015, Tajik authorities quickly connected Nazarzoda to the IRPT.

For the record, Nazarzoda was with the opposition during the civil war, but he left not long after the conflict began and only returned after it was over. He had been in the Tajik military since just after the war ended and had been a high-ranking officer since 2005, so there were questions about his strange decision to start an insurrection and even more questions about his purported ties to the IRPT.

Such questions did not matter to Tajik authorities, who then banned the IRPT and declared it an extremist group, just like Al-Qaeda or the so-called Islamic State militant group.

Kabiri was outside the country at the time, but 14 senior members of the party who were in Tajikistan after the party was declared an extremist group were arrested and given lengthy prison terms, including two life sentences, following what HRW called “a flawed trial.” Dozens, at least, of other IRPT members were also imprisoned and the Tajik government asked Interpol to place many of the IRPT leaders and members outside the country on the international wanted list.

But while Kabiri is free, there are concerns that IRPT member Namunjon Sharipov “faces a real risk of torture and other ill-treatment in Tajikistan,” according to HRW.

Sharipov is a high-ranking member of the IRPT from Tajikistan’s northern Sughd region. Since August 2015, he has been living in Istanbul, where he operated a teahouse, but on February 20 he called RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, known locally as Ozodi, to say he had “voluntarily returned” to Tajikistan.

Sharipov said he planned to visit the northern town of Isfara and then return to Istanbul in “about a week,” but as of early March there was no word he had flown back to Turkey.

HRW said in its report about Sharipov that his son explained that “on three consecutive days starting on February 2, the consul of the Tajik Consulate in Istanbul visited Sharipov at the teahouse, encouraging him to return voluntarily to Tajikistan.”

Turkish police detained Sharipov on February 5. Family members were able to see him several times, but on February 16 he was apparently put on a plane to Dushanbe.

Sharipov’s family and lawyer say Sharipov is being detained in Tajikistan and was forced to make statements like the one to Ozodi. HRW noted, “On several previous occasions, Tajik activists who have been forcibly returned to the country have been forced to make such statements to the press under duress.”

Kabiri and Sharipov’s fates are different, but the sort of ordeals they have gone through were described in a report John Heathershaw and Edward Lemon authored in October 2017.

The authors said the Tajik government targets exiles by placing them “on international wanted lists through Interpol and regional organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.”

However, there are also cases when exiles “are forcibly transferred, or rendered, back to their home country.”

Lemon, currently a postdoctorate fellow at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute, told Qishloq Ovozi: “It is against Interpol’s constitution for individuals to be targeted because of their political or religious beliefs…but this has not stopped authoritarian governments like Tajikistan targeting political exiles.”

Lemon said, “Interpol has been reforming. In 2015, it announced that it would no longer issue Red Notices for those with confirmed refugee status.” But Lemon added, “Even after having a Red Notice delisted, not all national police agencies will remove your file from their own national databases” and “governments can also continue to target individuals by issuing ‘diffusions,’ arrest requests sent directly to member states without being reviewed by Interpol.”

The Tajik government now calls the IRPT an extremist group, but when the IRPT was registered it was the second largest political party in Tajikistan with some 40,000 members and likely more than twice that many supporters. And it was a genuine opposition party.

With no strong opposition party remaining in Tajikistan, President Rahmon has made some interesting moves.

The IRPT was officially banned on September 29, 2015.

In December 2015, Tajikistan’s parliament, which was by then completely packed with members from pro-presidential parties, voted to give Rahmon the title of “founder of peace and national unity – leader of the nation.”

Rahmon’s daughter Ozoda was appointed chief of the presidential staff in January 2016.

In May 2016, a referendum was held on changes to the constitution that struck presidential terms limits — Rahmon is currently serving his fourth term — and lowered the eligibility age for a presidential candidate from 35 to 30. Rahmon’s eldest son, Rustam Emomali, turned 30 in December.

Rustam Emomali was appointed mayor of Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, in January 2017.

And the Norway-based religious rights group Forum 18 just reported on February 26 that during 2017, “1,938 mosques were in 2017 forcibly closed and converted to secular uses.”

Likely none of these recent changes would have gone uncontested if there had been a strong opposition party still present in Tajikistan.

Qishloq Ovozi

March 03, 2018

Fairtrials: “INTERPOL removes Red Notice for persecuted Tajikistan opposition leader”

INTERPOL removes Red Notice for persecuted Tajikistan opposition leader

February 28, 2018

Fair trial

INTERPOL announced last week that they had removed the Red Notice – an international wanted person alert – against Muhiddin Kabiri, leader of the Islamic Revival Party (IRPT) of Tajikistan.

Once the second largest political party in Tajikistan estimate to have over 40,000 members, the IRPT was the only officially registered Islamic political party in Central Asia and was the leading political opposition party in Tajikistan. Following severe Government crackdowns on political and religious freedoms in Tajikistan, the IRPT was deregistered as a political party by the Government and put on a blacklist of terrorist organisations. The Government issued an INTERPOL Red Notice against Kabiri, who has been living in exile since 2015 and has successfully claimed political asylum in Europe. But this has not stopped the Tajik authorities attempting to pursue him across borders using INTERPOL- in 2017 a representative of the Tajikistan Prosecutor General’s office said:

Muhiddin Kabiri, chairman of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, is in the Interpol list and is to be arrested immediately. But some European countries are providing asylum to criminals instead of arresting and extraditing them to Tajikistan.”

Fair Trials, a global criminal justice watchdog, has been advocating for the removal of the arrest warrant against Kabiri, who represents a clear case of an authoritarian Government abusing INTERPOL’s systems to persecute political opponents. INTERPOL has a clear policy that Red Notices cannot be used for political means, and a country cannot issue a Red Notice against refugees who have claimed political asylum due to persecution from that country, but it has taken over a year for Kabiri’s Red Notice to finally be deleted. Fair Trials Chief Executive, Jago Russell, said:

For years, Muhiddin Kabiri suffered as a result of Tajikistan’s attempts to stop him campaigning from exile for political and religious freedoms for people in Tajikistan, including for his colleagues, many of whom have been wrongfully arrested and imprisoned. We are delighted that INTERPOL’s improved complaints mechanism has worked as it should, and INTERPOL said “no” to Tajikistan’s abuse of the Red Notice system.”

Upon hearing about the deletion of the Red Notice, Mr. Kabiri said:

We believe human rights are relevant to all of us, every day, and standing up for them is never an easy job. Unfortunately, INTERPOL has been widely misused by authoritarian countries to silence peaceful activists.

Thank you to human rights organizations, especially Fair Trials, that work to improve respect for the fundamental human right to a fair trial and to delete the INTERPOL Red Notices against political dissidents.”

Fergananews:”High-Ranking Member of Tajik Islamic Renaissance Party Sentenced in Absentia”

A provincial court in Tajikistan has convicted Shamsiddin Saidov in absentia to 15 years in prison, Ozodi Radio reports. Saidov is a former member of the political council of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (PIVT).

Saidov was found guilty of extremism, terrorism and other crimes. The court heard nine witnesses and considered photographs on which Saidov is pictured sitting next to the PIVT leader, Mukhiddin Kabiri.

According to open sources, Saidov joined PIVT in the 1980s when the party was still operating underground. The authorities arrested him after one of the anti-Soviet protests in 1986 and forcibly deported him to Siberia.

When the civil war broke out in Tajikistan, Saidov left for Afghanistan where he represented PIVT’s leader at the time, Said Abdullo Nuri who died in 2006.

After the war in 1997, Saidov returned to his homeland and joined the National Reconciliation Commission. Until 2010 he led the International Department of PIVT. Saidov lives abroad now.

In 2017, Tajikistan passed a number of reforms amending the criminal legislation in order to allow convictions in absentia for especially dangerous criminals hiding abroad. Some observers noted at the time that the amendments seemed designed specifically to persecute PIVT leaders who had fled abroad. However, the authorities categorically denied such an interpretation of the legislative changes.

Until September 2015, PIVT had been the only officially functioning religious party in the post-Soviet space for 16 years. In August 2015, the Ministry of Justice of Tajikistan demanded PIVT to cease its activities. And in September, the republic’s authorities accused the PIVT leadership of involvement in a military mutiny led by the former Deputy Minister of Defense, Abdukhalim Nazarzoda.

The Supreme Court then labelled the party a terrorist organization and ordered the arrest of its leadership. In June 2016, the court sentenced 14 members of PIVT’s political council to various prison terms, two of them for life.

The party leader. Muhiddin Kabiri, left the republic right after the parliamentary elections on 1 March 2015 – six months before the “rebellious” events of September. He later said that he had fled fearing that he would face a criminal case fabricated against him at home.

In September 2016, Interpol’s website listed the name of Kabiri among its wanted suspects. Nevertheless, the leader of the PIVT announced his intention to continue the activities of the party in exile. Kabiri rejects all charges against PIVT – he thinks that the September insurgency was the reason for the ban on the activities of the Islamic party.

January 26,2018

Fergana News Agency

U.S. puts Tajikistan in 10 countries of particular concern. Another big defeat of dictator Rahmon

Press Statement

Heather Nauert
U.S. State Department Spokesperson
Washington, DC

January 4, 2018

In far too many places around the globe, people continue to be persecuted, unjustly prosecuted, or imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. Today, a number of governments infringe upon individuals’ ability to adopt, change, or renounce their religion or belief, worship in accordance with their religion or beliefs, or be free from coercion to practice a particular religion or belief.

In accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Secretary of State annually designates governments that have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom as “Countries of Particular Concern”. Today, the Department of State announces that the Secretary of State re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as Countries of Particular Concern on December 22, 2017. The Secretary also placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom.

The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity. These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries. We recognize that several designated countries are working to improve their respect for religious freedom; we welcome these initiatives and look forward to continued dialogue. The United States remains committed to working with governments, civil society organizations, and religious leaders to advance religious freedom around the world.

U.S. Department of State

January 4, 2018

NEWSWEEK: WHY EXTREMIST GROUPS ARE GAINING STRENGTH IN CENTRAL ASIA

When security forces revealed the suspect in an attack on the St Petersburg metro that killed 14 on April 3 was likely a Kyrgyz national, attention turned to the Central Asia region, the source of several attacks on Russia in recent decades. After Friday’s truck attack in Stockholm that killed four, the region made headlines again. Swedish police said the suspect, who has confessed to the attack, was Rakhmat Akilov, from Uzbekistan.

Though Russian authorities believe the St. Petersburg suspect Akbarzhon Jalilov, 22, was a suicide bomber, they arrested eight people in connection with the attack on Monday, and chief of Russian intelligence Alexander Bortnikov said they were also from Central Asian republics.

Both attacks have drawn attention to region with a history of separatism, and in recent years, a source of Islamist extremism. Though neither attack has been claimed by any group so far, both have mirrors in those by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). The group coordinated similar bombings at train stations in Brussels in March 2016 that killed 32, and a suicide attack on Ataturk airport in Istanbul in June that killed 44 civilians, in which the suspects were also from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. ISIS’s propaganda wing has encouraged its “soldiers” to attack western targets by using vehicle rammings, and an ISIS-inspired attack in Nice in July 2016 killed 86.

There are concerns about the growth of religious extremism in Central Asia—since the rise of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in 2014 experts estimate up to 4,000 people from central Asia have gone to fight for the group in Iraq and Syria. Russia’s shared borders with much of Central Asia have made it nervous. In a speech to the U.N. general assembly in September 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed concern over the growing threat of international terrorism in the region.

Much of Central Asia was formerly part of the Soviet Union, under which sources of identity such as religion and nationality were repressed. “In the 1990s when Communism collapsed, tradition withered away, and there wasn’t much prosperity. Conditions were ripe for a new ideology, and some people, especially young men looking to become heroes, were drawn to that,” says Anna Matleeva, visiting senior research fellow in the department for war studies at King’s College London.

A variety of extreme religious movements operate across Central Asia including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islam (Party of Islamic Liberation, HuT) the Jamaat of Central Asian Mujahidin and the Uyghur Islamic Party of Eastern Turkestan separatist group. Foreign organizations banned across the region include al Qaeda, Afghanistan’s Taliban, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Recruiters for ISIS are present in cities across the region. They target mostly poorer regions, suburbs, towns, areas with big bazaars, a crossroads perhaps, with a good communication network; places that allow a mixing of people anonymously,” Matleeva adds. There are several hotspots of extremism in the central Asian region, within the republics, as well as in regions with a strong separatist bent, such as Xinjiang in China.

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan, an authoritarian country, led by the dictator Islam Karimov until 2016, borders Afghanistan to the South, Turkmenistan to the west, and Russia to the north. The largest single group of people joining ISIS from Central Asia is from Uzbekistan, say Crisis Group experts.

A 39-year-old Uzbek man is in custody over an attack in Sweden which killed four in the capital, including a Belgian, a Briton, and two Swedes. Police said that he had “expressed sympathy for extremist organizations” including ISIS.

Reuters reports suggest that Uzbek recruits for ISIS could be in the thousands. The International Center for Conflict Resolution ( ICSR ) estimates that more than 500 Uzbek nationals have traveled to Syria to fight for ISIS in its self-styled caliphate. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan became part of ISIS in 2015, and is active in northern Afghanistan alongside the Taliban. The IMU wants to overthrow the Uzbek government and create Turkistan, or an Islamic caliphate which stretches from Xinjiang to the Caspian Sea.

Kyrgyzstan

The home of Jalilov, the alleged St Petersburg attacker, has experienced a “slow arc towards fundamentalism,” according to a June article in The Diplomat, a magazine specialising in Asian affairs. One of the bombers of the Boston marathon in 2013 was born in Kyrgyzstan, as was one of the attackers who hit Ataturk airport. Recruitment for extremist groups, particularly ISIS, is a concern for the tiny country. Estimates vary on the number of citizens that have gone to fight for ISIS, but several reports put the figure at around 500.

Of those who left to fight in Iraq and Syria, around 40 jihadists have returned and authorities are concerned about the influence they may have, and have cracked down on suspected extremist cells as a result.

Through 2015 and 2016 authorities carried out several raids in the capital Bishkek, and in Osh, on targets suspected or terror-related activities. They killed four during the anti-terror operation in July 2015, and detained several more, claiming the black flag of ISIS was flying above the house. In August 2016, police said they had broken up a suspected ISIS cell in Bishkek, and later that year the 10th Main Directorate, a government arm that usually deals with terror-related investigations, conducted weapons raids in Bishkek and Osh.

Other extremist movements besides ISIS have been active in the country, including a domestic arm of Iraqi Shia group Jaishul Mahdi that the government held responsible for bombings in 2010 and 2011. In 2011 the security services highlighted the emergence of an organization called the Islamic Movement of Kyrgyzstan (IMK) and analysts at the Crisis Group believe it has grown and provides assistance to people aiming to fight in Syria with ISIS.

Xinjiang, China

China is convinced that Xinjiang, an autonomous territory located in the far west of the country, and home to Uighur separatists and a Muslim-majority population, poses a threat to the country’s stability to such an extent that entering Urumqi, the capital, feels like entering a warzone. Armored vehicles and riot police line the streets, and there are constant alerts of possible uprisings. The government blamed the minority Uighurs for a knife attack in Xinjiang that left eight dead in February. Ethnic tensions between the Uighurs and China’s majority Han population have been exacerbated by Beijing’s crackdown on rights and civil liberties in the region.

In late February Chinese authorities were on high alert after an ISIS video released by the Al-Furat division of ISIS, their propaganda arm, suggested an attack in the region was imminent.

Since then Beijing directed that all cars in Xinjiang must have GPS, claiming that the form of monitoring was to protect against attacks. The army also marched through Urumqi, in a show of anti-extremist strength.

Tajikistan

Bordering China, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan is a majority Muslim country but follows a secular political institution. In November 2016, the U.S. told visitors to be wary of terror attacks, and to avoid public gatherings as growing religious unrest continued in Tajikistan, with its porous border with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Though the government has claimed that around 1,000 Tajiks have gone to fight for ISIS, analysts are skeptical, as the government has linked unrest to Islamic extremism when quashing dissent. Previously it was only Central Asian country with Islam represented politically, but President Emomoli Rahmon succeeded after 2015 in concentrating power in his hands after closing the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan. In July that year, Gulmorod Khalimov, the head of Tajikistan’s special forces became a high-profile defection to ISIS—he appeared in a propaganda video for the group, criticizing the Tajik government’s policy toward Islam.

Newsweek

04.12.2017

The Diplomat: Exiled Tajik Opposition Leader Speaks

“When the repression machine begins to work, it destroys everyone.”

Muhiddin Kabiri was on the run before he knew it. After the rigged election in his home country of Tajikistan, in which his party officially received a mere 1.5 percent of the vote, he needed time to rest. A conference in Malaysia he had been invited to was a good reason to leave. After that, he planned a short stay in Turkey to relax before deciding what to do next. The 2015 election was the first time since the 1997 peace deal ending the civil war that his Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) did not make it into the parliament.

That, however, did not come as a surprise. Since 2010 the regime of President Emomali Rahmon has been tightening its grip on power, crushing any dissent. In the traditionally pious Tajik society, this meant targeting religion, which the authorities justified in the context of the global war on terror. The government banned wearing the hijab in public, introduced control over sermons, and forbade the attendance of those under the age of 18 at religious ceremonies. Men wearing long beards were forced to shave. One of the most affected groups was the electorate and activists of the IRPT, at the time the second biggest political force and the only parliamentary opposition in the country. Arguably, it was also the only group capable of challenging Rahmon’s rule.

It was March 2015 when Kabiri packed his bags, preparing to spend one month abroad. He soon found out that a return would not be easy. As soon as he left the country, a regime-run newspaper, Djumhuriat, published a statement from the General Prosecutor launching a criminal investigation into Kabiri’s involvement in an illegal sale of property 15 years earlier. The case was widely seen as a political move to discredit his party. It also brought back the memory of Zaid Saidov, a leader of the New Tajikistan party, who was charged with fraud and polygamy a few months into his oppositional involvement. He is now serving a 26-year prison term.

At the time, a third of the IRPT’s Political Council thought that Kabiri should return. But the majority decided that it was too risky. When I asked Kabiri how he felt leaving his peers and family, he took a moment to think about the answer. “For sure, this feeling is only familiar to those who were in a similar situation,” he replied calmly, taking a deep breath. “It’s very difficult. On the one hand, you want to be with your peers and friends to go through the difficulties together. On the other hand – responsibility requires that you do not put yourself and the party in danger. If something happens to the party and the leader is free, he can still support his people.”

The Hunt

Even with the imminent threat of the leader’s arrest and the lost parliamentary seats, IRPT members failed to foresee what was to come.

“On September 9 we had the Political Council meeting. I took part online and the rest of the leadership was in my home in Dushanbe, as they had closed down our office a month earlier. Some members wanted to organize protests in front of the Ministry of Justice if they don’t let us hold the party congress at the end of the month. But the majority said the government was only waiting for such a provocation and suggested that we refrain from such actions.” Kabiri seemed composed while relaying the tale; he probably had told the story many times before.

“After two days I received information that there is a question on a high level: what to do with the party? Our sources said that once the decision about arresting the party leadership is made, we will have approximately two days to help our people flee.” But when the time came, Kabiri found it difficult to convince his associates to leave.

“Even my son, who is now in Germany, challenged my decision. He said that if he leaves it will look like a family escape. If there are arrests, he should be with the rest of the party. He had those romantic thoughts.”

Romantic it may have been, but the view was shared by the majority of party leadership. No one believed that the response of the authorities could be so ruthless. He therefore decided to give the activists individual orders to leave the country. “I called my first deputy and said that as the party leader, I tell you to leave Tajikistan. If you don’t, it will mean that you are violating the party discipline.” Thanks to those calls, around a third of the leadership managed to escape the country. But some missed the chance by a matter of minutes. Kabiri’s driver was caught as he was boarding a plane. Kabiri’s first deputy was arrested at the airport. During a two-day hunt, the authorities arrested over 200 party members. Around 1,000 activists managed to escape to Europe.

They Began With Beating

Kabiri’s relatives and friends who stayed in the country were arrested, including his elderly aunts. The authorities began with beatings, but soon after moved to more sophisticated measures.

“Imagine, a person who has been impelled to speak against his own son or brother. What kind of torture they had to go through, both physical and psychological? There were around ten videos only with my relatives speaking against the party. They forced everybody – even my daughter-in-law, my brother, and my teacher, and whoever had any contact with me.” The same happened to the families of his peers.

Soon after, the trials behind closed doors began. No witnesses, journalists, relatives, or OSCE observers were allowed in the court. Kabiri’s deputies were sentenced to life imprisonment; other party members and activists received 20, 25, or 30-year sentences. Following the IRPT’s trial, the authorities kept the ruling secret, although the party got hold of it through unofficial channels. The IRPT was charged with extremism and terrorism. No foreign government or organization has so far reiterated the accusation.

The authorities subsequently moved on to arresting the party’s lawyers. Buzurgmehr Yorov, the IRPT’s main attorney, is currently serving a 26-year sentence. His brother, Jamshed, managed to escape and is now awaiting a decision on his asylum application in a European country.

It has been two years since Kabiri last spoke to his grandchildren, who are under house arrest. They are not allowed to speak to their own father, and had not been allowed to see Kabiri’s father, who lived in Dushanbe just a few kilometers away. He passed away several months ago unable to say goodbye to his family.

“When the repression machine begins to work, it destroys everyone. It does not distinguish between the guilty and the innocent, young and old, it crushes everyone. And once there are no oppositionists left, it begins to turn against itself,” Kabiri says.

The World’s Silence

The response of the international community to the brutal crushing of the opposition in Tajikistan has been meek. The UN, which negotiated and was the guarantor of the 1997 peace deal, has done nothing to bring the issue to the international agenda. The EU continues to support the country with millions in development assistance and in February 2016, the United States promised to grant the country an additional $50 million in military aid to support its anti-terrorist efforts. The reluctance of the West to acknowledge and address the suffering of Tajiks can be seen as a deal with the regime, driven by anti-Islamic paranoia.

“Without democracy and strong civil society there will be neither stability nor development. We are trying to convince the EU that they should pay more attention to our region, but unfortunately, our European partners think that we are exaggerating the problems. It is easier to cooperate with official government structures in the fights against radicalism than with NGOs and opposition parties,” Kabiri says.

Kabiri sees an analogy between the current situation in Central Asia and the Middle East on the onset of the Arab Spring. “There is an example of Tunisia, where after the fall of Ben Ali, there was a responsible opposition both of an Islamic and secular character that managed to stabilize the situation. But why it did not happen in Libya? Because Gaddafi had destroyed the whole opposition. The only ones who remained were himself and a mob of radicals.”

As he explains, the high proportion of Tajik citizens in the ranks of the Islamic State is not accidental. People are disillusioned not only with their own governments, but also with the West, which they see as the main supporter of local dictators. They no longer believe in democracy and peaceful change. Through repression, the government is creating extremists, who, according to Kabiri, will soon be the only alternative to Rahmon’s rule.

Life Abroad

In February 2017, Kabiri received refugee status in an EU country. Until then, he stayed in a refugee center with other asylum seekers from Tajikistan and elsewhere. “I had the financial means not to stay in the camp, but I didn’t want to. Maybe because I wanted to somehow compensate for the feeling of guilt,” he wonders. “But I don’t have any regrets. I had to start everything from the beginning and the few months were a university of life for me. Only because of that I now have some peace of mind. I feel the same way as I used to 20 years ago, when I was starting to build my life.”

He began with the reform of party structure to adjust to the realities of exile. He does not rule out that the party may change its name and objectives in the near future. Altering the program is necessary in the new circumstances. In Tajikistan, the party was focused on solving internal issues through dialogue and compromise with the authorities, for which it was often harshly criticized. Critics claimed that such excessive compliance is a sign of weakness, which the government used against the party and society. Now, there is no place for dialogue.

But for all the tragedy of the situation, Kabiri remains optimistic.  “When I received asylum, my wife, who lives in Istanbul, said that on the very same day she received a phone call from someone from Dushanbe asking if it’s true. She said this person had heard it from someone in prison. This is how fast the good news reached my peers. They said that once I received status, it means that Europe does not see me as a criminal. And that there is hope for them too.”

Return

Before we finished our talk, sitting in the comfortable office of a Polish NGO run by my friends in central Warsaw, I once again asked about Kabiri’s feelings. He did not seem to be accustomed to this kind of question.

“Will you ever return?” I asked. “For some reason I am sure that I will,” he replied without much hesitation.

“In the cemetery in my village I planted a couple of trees. They took away everything I had, but I asked someone to take care of the trees. I planted them because I want to be buried there. I don’t know whether it will ever happen. But my return will mean that my peers are free.”

Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska is a journalist focusing on the post-Soviet space and an editor with New Eastern Europe magazine.

 

The Diplomat

May 1, 2017

« Older Entries